FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
September 19, 2005
MAYOR BLOOMBERG TESTIFIES BEFORE THE CAPITAL ASSET REALIGNMENT FOR ENHANCED SERVICES (CARES) LOCAL ADVISORY PANEL
Mayor Bloomberg's prepared remarks are below. Please check against delivery:
Thank you, Dr. Van Dunn. At the outset, I want to acknowledge your colleague, Clarice Joynes, the executive director of the Mayor's Office of Veteran's Affairs, and thank her for helping formulate our Administration's position on the issues before this advisory panel.
Ladies and gentlemen, on behalf of all New Yorkers, I strongly urge you to recommend that all the VA Hospitals in our city remain open.
We have a moral obligation to the men and women who have worn our nation's uniform, and defended our freedom. We cannot shirk from that duty.
There are, moreover, four very compelling practical reasons for preserving our city's VA facilities. First, there is a great demand for the outstanding services provided at our VA hospitals. And unfortunately, because of the dangers faced by the thousands of our fellow New Yorkers who are currently in the Armed Forces, that demand is likely to grow.
There are currently more than 302,000 veterans living in the five boroughs of New York City, and a total of more than 1.3 million veterans living in the tri-state area.
Some 13,000 of our neighbors are also currently on active duty, in the reserves, or in the National Guard. As many of them return from service in Afghanistan and Iraq, their need for the excellent health care provided by our VA hospitals will only increase.
Also, because of employment and education opportunities and other factors, New York remains, as it has been throughout our history, a magnet for returning veterans from other parts of the country.
That all adds up to one conclusion: This would be the wrong time to reduce the services that our city's VA hospitals provide.
Second, both the Manhattan and Brooklyn campuses of the New York Harbor Healthcare System provide excellent and highly specialized services. These specialized programs could well be lost in the shuffle of consolidation.
The Brooklyn VA specializes in cancer care and non-invasive cardiology. It has, for example, a mammography unit offering comprehensive breast cancer services to female veterans.
For its part, the Manhattan VA houses the Northeast region's prosthetics center, as well as a post-traumatic stress disorder clinic. The hospital has also been cited for excellence for services ranging from cardiovascular surgery to rehabilitation medicine to HIV/AIDS diagnosis and treatment. In fact, the Manhattan VA is the only one of its kind that provides both clinical and research services concerning HIV and AIDS.
It goes without saying that these are all top-priority services, and they all must be maintained.
And let me say one more word about medical research: New York City's VA hospitals generate more than $10 million a year in grants and funding, most of which is conducted by New York University Medical Center. Disrupting this 50-year-old relationship would seriously diminish the quality of medical care for veterans, not just in New York City, but throughout the nation.
Third, consolidation would also require many veterans to travel great distances to get primary health care-imposing hardships on them that the VA's own guidelines say are onerous and even harmful.
For example: The average weekday subway travel time between the Brooklyn and Manhattan VA campuses is an hour and 30 minutes. This far exceeds Veterans' Administration guidelines, which very sensibly say that most patients should not have to travel for more than 30 minutes to receive primary care or more than 60 minutes to receive hospital care.
It makes no sense to impose such extraordinary additional travel burdens on veterans who are ill or disabled.
Fourth and finally, consolidating these VA facilities would also impose severe new strains on the City's own public hospital system.
Closing either the Manhattan or Brooklyn VA hospital would inevitably increase the number of veterans seeking care at the city's public hospitals. This would put even greater demands on a system that already serves roughly one out of every six New Yorkers. The City would also wind up paying for one-fourth of any medical care provided to veterans who enroll in Medicaid should they see that as an alternative to VA health care.
Ladies and gentlemen, over the last four years, 37 sons and daughters of New York City have lost their lives serving our nation in Afghanistan and Iraq, and many, many more have been wounded in action.
Words cannot express our gratitude for their courage and devotion to duty. But we can show through our actions what we can't express in words.
When they took the oath to defend our nation, we the people made a pledge, too: To honor them, to support them, and to provide them with first-class medical care-in the field, and at home.
I ask you to honor our commitments to our veterans, and maintain all of New York's VA facilities.
Edward Skyler / Silvia Alvarez (212) 788-2958